Let’s get the really mundane stuff out of the way off the top. Michigan became the 26th State on January 26, 1837. The original capitol was Detroit, but it was moved to Lansing in 1847 to provide better defense against the British in nearby Canada. I am not quite sure why this was an issue in 1847 but they say Lansing in lovely.
The name Michigan comes from the Chippewa word michi-gama, meaning “large
lake”. About half of the territory is covered by forests, so there are a lot of trees. This is fortunate as the largest moose herd in the US lives in Michigan.
Michigan has given us some notable Americans. Former President Gerald R. Ford (the only U.S. President never elected) hailed from Michigan. Soon to be former professional tennis player Serena Williams is also a native. Marlo Thomas, you know, that girl, was also born in the State. William Boeing of aviation fame was also born in Michigan. While not as immediately well know, the world’s tallest identical twins, Michael and James Lanier, were born in Troy, Michigan in 1969 and stand tall at 7’ 3” tall. An odd side note is that their sister Jennifer is only 5’2” tall.
Most people probably equate “magic” with the traditional spooky doings of October, but it seems we have it wrong. August sees the annual Magic festival in the self-proclaimed magic capitol of the world, Colon, Michigan. Just how did Colon become
the magic capitol? By having more manufacturers of magic gimmicks and tricks than any other town of course! With a population of only 1,173 (smaller than Tanglewood) residents must work overtime to put the four day Festival of Magic on each August, as well as maintain the only Magicians’ Walk of Fame in the world (I know, I figured that would have to have been in Las Vegas myself). To complete the magical picture, Colon claims to have more “famous” magicians buried in the local cemetery than any other cemetery in the world (28). I am not sure how they define a famous magician. I can’t think of eight, let alone 28, and I am pretty sure Harry Houdini isn’t buried there, but everyone needs to be known for something I suppose. Yes, Harry Blackstone Sr. is buried in Colon, but name the other 27……transparency is important.
And while you are planning your Michigan visit, do not forget to pencil in Hamtramck.
This town has an annual Paczki Day celebration devoted to the greater glory of this Polish version of a jelly doughnut.
We may live in the “Peninsula State” here in Florida, but Michigan has one up on us. Yep, Michigan is made up of two peninsulas, called (not terribly creatively) the Upper and the Lower Peninsulas. It would have been a lot more clever if the “lower peninsula” were to the North, but I don’t suppose anyone thought of that. (I always liked that about the Nile,
the lower Nile is on top of the upper Nile on the map) Michigan has also been called the wolverine state, although there are no wolverines currently living in the State. Thought to have left the State in 1804, a lone wolverine was discovered in Huron County in 2004, but it has since crossed over the rainbow bridge. In a effort to keep the wolverine state designation though, the last wolverine was stuffed and mounted after death. It is probably on display somewhere, but since it was not a magic wolverine I wouldn’t go looking for it in Colon.
Folks that live on the upper peninsula call themselves “yoopers” (or U.P.-ers, not like uppers as in amphetamines). They call those that live in the lower peninsula “trolls” since they all reside “under” the Mackinaw bridge. I tend to doubt they call themselves trolls, but with rampant self-esteem problems today it is anyone’s guess.
Michigan is the only state that touches four out of the five Great Lakes. This has the
direct result that no matter where you stand in Michigan, you are within 85 miles of one of them. With so much lake front property it will probably come as no surprise that Michigan claims to have more shoreline than any other US State than Alaska (yes, beat out even Hawaii). Now I know what you are thinking, how could that be true? Well, when you factor in the coastlines of the 11,000 in land lakes and more than 36,000 miles of streams it gets more believable. I would factor in all the small island coastlines, but no one has counted the islands yet – maybe this would make a good travel idea (in the summer).
With so much emphasis on water and coastlines it should come as no surprise that Michigan also boasts of the only floating Post Office in the US. The J.W. Westcott II is based out of Detroit and is the only ship or boat that delivers mail to ships while they are still underway (usually as they pass under the Ambassador Bridge). A ship named Westcott has been doing this for 125 years now. To give you an idea of just how much freight is moved by water through Michigan, more tonnage passes though the historic Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie each year than the Suez and Panama Canals combined.
Michigan also has a few notable firsts – the first regularly scheduled passenger air service was not in some big coastal city, or out of Chicago. The first regularly scheduled passenger air service started in 1926 with service between Grand Rapids and Detroit. Not too surprisingly, the first air-conditioned car was made in Michigan when Packard built it in Detroit in 1939. Michigan also was the home to the first
manufactured baby food when Daniel Gerber of Fremont, Michigan started doing it in 1927. Michigan was the first state to provide a Constitutional right to a free high school education and the establishment of public libraries as part of the State’s Constitution. In 1945 Grand Rapids became the first city in the world to fluoridate its drinking water! Citizens of Detroit were the very first in the U.S. to have assigned telephone numbers! And move over San Diego, Bronx and all other zoos – it was the Detroit Zoo that introduced the cageless open exhibits of animals that are the norm today. The very first soda pop produced for sale in the US came from Michigan too. In 1862 James Vernor of Detroit was trying to invent a new beverage when he was called away to serve in the Civil War. When he came home four years later, he found that the stuff he had stored away in an oak cask before he left had taken on a refreshing ginger taste and Vernors’ Ginger Ale was born.
Cathelepistemian became the first University established by any of the States in 1817. In 1821 it changed its name to the catchier “University of Michigan”, which looks a lot better on a sweatshirt. (And is a lot easier to work into some cheers at football games). They moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor in 1841. This should not be confused with Michigan State University, founded in 1855 as the nation’s first land-grant university and served as the prototype for 69 land-grant institutions later established under the Morrill Act of 1862. It was the first institution of higher learning in the nation to teach scientific agriculture.
In 1846 Michigan became the first English speaking government in the entire world to outlaw the death penalty for any crime other than treason!
I am not quite sure how this one works, but the Siphon Bridge in Manistique is located 4 feet below the water level.
Michigan also has the shortest signed Interstate highway in the US. I-375 is only 1.06 miles long outside of Detroit. Now I can hear folks from Montana and New York grumbling, but I-878 in New York (.7 miles) and I-315 (.83 miles) in Montana don’t have Interstate signage.
One of Michigan’s most famous exports came about by accident in 1899 when a certain Dr. Kellogg was trying to make granola and found he had created corn flakes.
Battle Creek is still called the cereal capitol of the world as a result.
Finally the usual quirks of the law because, well, we never completely escape our pasts….
- Alligators are not allowed to be tied to a fire hydrant in Detroit
- It’s against the law to paint sparrows and sell them as parakeets in Harper Woods.
- Farmers are allowed to sleep with their farm animals in Clawson.
- Adultery is illegal, but can only be punished upon a complaint by the affected husband or wife.
- Smoking while in bed is illegal in Soo, Michigan.
- Anyone can keep their cow on Main Street in downtown Wayland at a cost of 3 cents per day.
- It is still against the law in Michigan, however, to “contumeliously reproach” God, assuming you can even figure out what that means.
- In 2008, the city of Flint passed a law that gave police the authority to arrest anyone whose pants sagged so low as to expose their undies or bare butts. The local plumber’s union has evidently declined to comment (or comply).